March 15, 2010

Sudanese community has diverse makeup


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Derek Davis/Staff Photographer: Family and friends walk behind a hearse carrying the body of James Angelo, Saturday, Sept. 13, 2008, before a funeral at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland.

Staff Writer

Acholi and Arabic were just two of the many languages that could be heard Saturday as dozens of people walked behind the hearse carrying the body of James Angelo to his funeral.

Angelo immigrated to Portland in 1995 with his parents, two brothers and four sisters. The family had lived in Egypt for three years after fleeing the civil war in Sudan.

Sudan is Africa's largest country, about equal in size to all of the United States east of the Mississippi, and is populated by hundreds of tribes, many of which have their own language.

Maine is home to an estimated 2,000 Sudanese representing 17 tribes, according to Wells Staley-Mays, a former worker with Peace Action Maine who has worked for years with Sudanese refugees on legislation to curb international arms trading.

The majority of the Sudanese in Maine are Christian, mostly Catholic. A minority are Muslim.

The largest tribe in Maine is Acholi, which is from southern Sudan. This is the tribe to which Angelo belonged.

Each tribe in Maine has its own association, said Angelo's father, Angelo Okot. Okot is the leader of the Sudanese Community Association of Maine, which is the umbrella group for all the Sudanese associations.

Sudanese refugees first arrived in Maine in the early 1990s, fleeing a civil war that broke out in 1983. The war and a famine displaced more than 4 million people and led to more than 1 million deaths, according to the U.S. government.

The Sudanese are the second largest refugee group in Maine, behind the Somali. Most live in Portland and Lewiston.

In the United States, the Sudanese represent a relatively small group. In 2006, there were 36,000 foreign-born Sudanese, according to an analysis by the Center for Immigration Studies, an increase of 16,000 since the 2000 census.

In 2000, the states with the largest Sudanese populations were Virginia, Washington, Maryland, California, Idaho, Minnesota and North Carolina.

As a group, the Sudanese are relatively well-educated, with one-third holding a college degree and one-third having attended some college, according to the Center for Immigration Studies.

The various tribes get along well, and they are supportive of the Sudan Liberation Movement, a loose association of Sudanese rebel groups fighting against the Sudanese government forces, Okot said.

The government and government-sponsored Arab militiamen are accused of perpetrating widespread atrocities against Sudanese civilians throughout the Darfur region in Sudan.

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

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